If you’re struggling with your product photography compositions, you’ve come to the right place! Below, I share tips and guidelines to help you arrange products more effectively.
In product photography, the goal is to make the item desirable. Composition is a great way to direct the attention of the viewer, highlight the main subject, and add context to the image – all of which can contribute to the product’s appeal.
Note that the composition rules and guidelines that I mention in this article apply to any type of product. So regardless of what you’re photographing, you’re bound to find them useful.
Let’s get started!
1. Use the rule of thirds for powerful product compositions
The rule of thirds is one of the most famous composition rules out there. Pretty much everyone with an interest in photography has heard of the rule, from landscape and nature photographers to food and product shooters.
In fact, even people who have never studied photography use the rule of thirds without knowing it. Why? The rule of thirds grid is offered as a default overlay by many smartphones and cameras!
Now, the rule of thirds says that you should divide the frame into nine equal segments, which you can do by tracing two vertical lines and two horizontal lines across a frame, like this:
The intersection points are the most important, and you can use them to position your main product. That way, your composition feels well-balanced and dynamic. When arranging additional items throughout your composition, go ahead and place them along the gridlines.
Since the grid is included on most smartphones and cameras, you can practice without much effort. Simply enable the grid overlay. Then, when you’re doing a product shoot, position your main items along the rule of thirds grid!
2. Use the rule of odds to group your products
The rule of odds states that a group of objects is more appealing when it’s formed by an odd number of elements. It’s a composition guideline that’s used in art, interior design, graphic design, and of course, photography.
Why does the rule work? There’s no real consensus. Some say it’s because odd numbers force the eye to wander through the composition. Others say that it’s because our brain groups things in pairs, so having an extra element attracts our attention.
Whatever the reason, an “odd” composition usually looks great. So the next time you create a product photo, try distributing elements in groups three, five, or seven. You’ll likely end up with more interesting images!
By the way, a three-item composition is the easiest way to satisfy the rule of odds, but seven is the favored number across cultures, genders, and age groups.
3. Use composition planes to add depth
Another way to create an interesting and pleasing product composition is by creating planes. This will add depth, and it’ll offer valuable context to the viewer.
For instance, look at the image below. The memory card sits in the foreground, while the camera is blurry but recognizable in the background. The image has plenty of depth, and it tells a story, too: the memory card is an essential item when using your camera!
When creating a composition, you can work with the front plane, the middle plane, and the background. That said, some photographs only have two planes: the foreground and the background. Neither option is better than the other, and both can work well; just choose between two or three planes depending on the story you want to tell.
You can create planes while using a narrow aperture for a deep depth of field – but a good way to separate the planes and emphasize one item over the others is by keeping the depth of field shallow. To achieve this, you’ll need to balance the aperture, the focal length, and the distance between the camera and the subject. You can use a DOF calculator to find the perfect combination, or you can spend time testing out different apertures and focal lengths.
Pro tip: If you’re using a smartphone, set it to Portrait mode. It’ll blur the background and give you a similar effect.
4. Use patterns for eye-catching compositions
Incorporating patterns into your product photos is a very versatile technique; you can create all sorts of interest using shapes, colors, or textures. You can also add variety by arranging regular or irregular patterns. And you can start with a regular pattern but break it to add a point of interest. That’s how I created this paperclip composition:
Flat lay is a type of product photography that can really benefit from using patterns. You have the entire surface of the frame to arrange your products, which means you can produce plenty of obvious (or not so obvious) patterned compositions.
Also, patterning is a very effective technique when you’re photographing a product that comes in many flavors or colors (e.g., lipstick or lollipops).
5. Use diagonal lines to add movement
Diagonal lines are a powerful way to create movement in your product photography compositions. Here, I’m not talking about physical movement, but visual movement – that is, movement of the eye through the frame. Visual movement helps engage the viewer and encourages them to examine the entire scene.
Now, there are different ways to incorporate diagonal lines into your images. You can arrange your products (or your products plus props) in a diagonal line. Alternatively, you can create a diagonal by tilting your product, which makes for a powerfully dynamic composition:
Finally, you can use diagonals as leading lines to guide the viewer’s eye toward the product. Try placing props around the product, and make sure they point the viewer in the desired direction.
6. Use the golden triangle for balanced compositions
The golden triangle can help you arrange elements in a pleasing way.
You’ve probably heard of the golden ratio, which is commonly used in art (it’s often discussed in relation to the Fibonacci spiral). Well, the golden ratio is used to create a golden triangle overlay, which looks like this:
Fortunately, determining golden triangle positions doesn’t require mathematical calculations; most camera apps and photo-editing software (including Lightroom) come with this overlay. So when you’re arranging your products, use the overlay to position key elements along triangle sides or vertices. Notice how the roses tend to fall along the overlay in the image above?
Using this technique, you can create compositions that convey stability but that also remain dynamic thanks to the diagonal lines.
7. Use light and shadow to tell a story
Learning to manipulate light to tell the perfect story is the fundamental skill possessed by a professional product photographer.
For instance, you can use light and shadow to draw the attention of the viewer toward the product. The eye will automatically be drawn to the area of the image with the highest contrast, so by lighting your product and letting its surroundings fall into shadow, you can easily guide the viewer. For this next shot, I used light and shadow to emphasize the can:
Keep in mind that you can’t just light your product, let shadows fall everywhere else, and call it a day. You need to balance the light and shadow areas for a pleasing result. Through a careful combination of light and dark, you can add depth to your compositions and pull focus toward the product.
Remember that light also contributes to the general mood of the picture, so use it carefully. For example, high-contrast lighting is useful to highlight the product, but it can be very dramatic. It might not be the most appropriate form of lighting if the product is, say, a baby item.
And don’t just think about the direction of the light; also carefully select the lighting temperature and the lighting quality for the perfect result.
8. Use composition overlays with live shooting
When you’re just starting out, applying the composition rules and guidelines can be quite challenging. Everything may sound good in theory, but once you’re looking through the viewfinder, it’s difficult to know where you should place your objects.
That’s one of the reasons why tethered shooting is helpful when doing product photography. Using programs such as Capture One Pro, you can add composition overlays to your live view of the scene, and you can arrange your compositions along the overlay before taking the picture.
If you use a smartphone, you can download camera apps with overlays, such as Wise Camera. There are also apps that allow you to superimpose other images as guides when shooting, such as Dittoed.
After some practice, you’ll realize that you don’t need the overlays anymore, and you’ll be able to create powerful compositions instinctively.
9. Improve your compositions with the Crop tool
Capturing the perfect composition in-camera isn’t always possible. You might forget to account for a distraction at the edge of the scene, or you might keep your composition a little too loose and want to tighten it up later on.
Fortunately, there are simple ways to improve the composition in post-processing! For instance, pretty much every editing program has a crop tool and many offer composition overlays (Photoshop and Lightroom, for instance, offer plenty of overlays and easy-to-use Crop tools). So don’t be afraid to experiment with different crops, and cycle through your different overlay options for additional inspiration.
That said, while cropping is certainly useful, it’s never ideal. Every time you crop, you lose pixels. So I encourage you to get the best possible composition when shooting, only make small tweaks with editing software. Make sense?
Product photography composition tips: final words
Product photography composition doesn’t have to be difficult. Hopefully, these tips have given you plenty of easy ways to build and enhance your compositions – though these are actually only a few of the product photography composition guidelines that I like to use, so always experiment and push yourself to learn more.
And remember that you can combine different composition guidelines to create even more interesting, attention-grabbing images.
Which of these product photography composition techniques do you plan to use? Which are your favorites? Share your thoughts in the comments below!